For rape culture to end, we must bring our culture to light
A deeper look at the ways in which we enable assault.
The #TimesUp and #MeToo moment is more than just a tidal wave washing through the power systems of our culture before ebbing back into an ocean of complacency; it’s a risen tide that won’t accommodate the old and low ways. The new normal is an upward trajectory toward a place where we can talk openly and freely about what is happening inside the structures of our culture that perpetuate the toxic energies that enable assaulters. There is no countervailing view: Abusers have got to go.
But while the world is reshaping itself around the reality that we won’t stand for the enablers of rape, it’s going to take work to root them out. We need to shine the light on the ways in which the artists we champion or the communities we’ve built have fundamental, foundational flaws that need to be addressed so victims know they can come forward, and so that potential victims are empowered, and so that abusers are held accountable (be it legally or culturally), and potential abusers know that they can’t get away with this stuff anymore.
(As a note, in moments this article will discuss offenders as male-gendered and victims as female gendered. This is for ease of discussion and to reflect the statistics that over one in five women say they have been a victim of assault, while one of 71 men say the same. That said, I’m pausing right here to note and underscore that rape happens against all genders by all genders, and people of all orientations at all too frequent a rate. Gender identity may be a choice, but requiring consent is not. No means no.)
When we talk about rape culture, we’re talking about a country in which 20% of women say they’ve experienced sexual assault, but only 30% of actual rapes are reported. Let’s look into why this is even possible.
First, sexual assault and rape often arise from more complicated circumstances than our collective conscience’s caricature. Of course, we vilify the predator who attacks a victim in a dark alley. But that doesn’t scratch the surface on the untold millions who walk amongst us, holding positions in the cultures and subcultures of their dominion, often known and loved by their victims, and leveraging all of that status and power to commit criminal assaults.
And then there are the many ways in which victims are discouraged from reporting these awful events—a web of social cues that disenfranchise, objectify, and marginalize. Take, for example, how the women who come forward after a rape are asked what they were wearing, as if they brought this on themselves or were “asking for it,” if they’re believed at all. All of this unfolds against a backdrop of oppressive and disempowering behaviors like street harassment, which creates a dynamic in which women are stripped of humanity and men are conditioned to think that sexuality, like other objects, is there to be taken.
It goes even deeper when you bring social and power structures into the mix. So much of #TimesUp and #MeToo are the stories of manipulative gatekeepers using their influence either to prevent or retaliate against victims coming forward by shutting them out of opportunities and resources in the fields of their dreams.
Just look at the insidious way in which comedian Louis C.K. was able to continually perversely expose himself to aspiring female comedians, who were essentially forced into silence or else suffer the wrath of Louis’s many allies situated in positions of power, in writers rooms or production companies across show business. Or look at the actress Mira Sorvino, who recently learned about the ways in which film producer Harvey Weinstein—whose monstrous history of raping and controlling actresses ignited the #MeToo movement in its current form—essentially killed her career by turning other film producers against her after she refused to sleep with him.
But the messages victims of such assault and misogyny receive are even louder when they’re from fans. Think of rappers Kodak Black and XXXTentacion who, respectively, have been indicted for sexual battery and served time for brutal domestic violence and whose popularity seemingly only grows. Now, whether Kodak is found guilty or not—he awaits trial on charges of criminal sexual conduct from a sexual assault indictment in October—think of the message sent when fans reflexively responded to his indictment with #FreeKodak hashtags instead of looking more deeply into the heinous allegations that put him in legal straits.
Naturally, this isn’t a genre-specific problem. This isn’t about rap, especially not when you could say that the theme song for rape culture as pop cultural commodity has got to be “Blurred Lines,” the title of which is already a damning statement on the disposability of consent (and which literally features a line out of a rapist’s script as a creepy low-octave lyric: “You know you want it”).
But it’s more than music, or comedy, or Hollywood. (Though if you watched this past weekend’s Oscars and all of the discussion of #MeToo on the red carpet and during the show, you know: Hollywood’s a problem.) No, it isn’t only an entertainment world problem.
We live in a world where public figures become role models, and where impressionable young minds subsist on a culture which celebrates people not just in spite, but sometimes because of their cavalier attitudes toward sexual permission. And this is mad suspect.
It’s like this: Anywhere there is a hierarchical power structure patterned on patriarchal values and personnel, you have the conditions precedent for abuse, intimidation, and coercive behavior. In other words: Where men hold the power and the systems for reporting are either flawed, nonresponsive, or result in lost opportunities, you have a breeding ground for situations like sexual assault and rape. Examples of this would be workplaces, music studios, Oval Offices, board rooms—you name it, you’ll find it.
And that’s why we see righteous and vibrant movements like #MeToo bringing long-needed reckoning and light to these sorts of issues.
What are the solutions? Well, it begins with shining a light, and talking it out. It starts with bringing awareness to our culture which feeds and reinforces assault-friendly value systems through championing abusers, letting them walk, and not holding them accountable.
Here at REVOLT, we’re hoping to stoke this conversation this month, and every month thereafter.
We’ll be continuing this conversation on social media, and also in the form of a roundtable discussion with four prominent thinkers in the world of these issues in the entertianment industry. Stay tuned for that. And stand up for the world you want to see, a world where we all have agency over our bodies.